Craig Tansley examines the places in Australia that make us feel like we’re travelling overseas…
We won’t be going overseas for some time (except perhaps to New Zealand, and the South Pacific). But Australia’s a huge, diverse country (at nearly eight million square kilometres) and there’s experiences, places and destinations that feel just like you’re somewhere overseas. From French-style wine regions to Greek Island-like sailing getaways, we look at where you can go in Australia to feel like you’ve gone overseas.
THE HAMPTONS BY THE QUEENSLAND BORDER
Soak up a Hamptons-style weekend away – in New South Wales. Halycon House (halyconhouse.com.au) in the far northern NSW surf town of Cabarita was an old ‘60s surf motel before two sisters turned it Australia’s version of a chic Hamptons getaway. Drink cocktails by the pool, or at an open-plan bar where you can see whales pass between June and October. It’s all ‘Long Island Nautilica’ in here, the pool’s framed in teak and fringed with palms, and there’s blue and white candy-striped day beds to spend your days in. In 2019 Halycon House made the prestigious Conde Nast Best Hotels In The World Gold List.
ITALY IN THE CANE FIELDS
You won’t find an odder slice of Italy anywhere than at Innisfail in Far North Queensland. Italians shaped the town and surrounding area when they migrated here in 1891 to work sugar cane plantations. Now over half the town is of Italian heritage, and the streetscape reflects this (it’s like being in Europe – the CBD is home to Australia’s best preserved art deco streetscape). And forget Aussie pub grub; you won’t eat better Italian food anywhere in regional Australia. From deli’s (Oliveri’s Continental Deli) to pizza (Roscoes Pizza) and fine dining (Sapore Di Italia), it’s bellissimo.
BORDEAUX = MARGARET RIVER
Ignore the gum trees… and the kangaroos.. and you might be in France’s famed Bordeaux wine region. Margaret River, three-and-a-half hours south of Perth, is often compared to its more famous counterpart. Both are bordered to the west by wild coastline – Bordeaux’s Atlantic Coast is famous for its huge waves, and Margaret River is home to two of the world’s most iconic big wave surf breaks. And ever since its first vintage in the ‘60s, Margaret River wines have been compared to Bordeaux’s – they do share the same Mediterranean (with strong maritime influence) climate. There’s over 200 wineries to visit.
AN ENGLISH ESCAPE OUTSIDE SYDNEY
Drive 90 minutes from Sydney’s CBD right into the English countryside. With its cooler temperatures (thanks to its higher elevation), green rolling hills and a landscape full of historic stately manors, the Southern Highlands would make any homesick Englishman happy. Heritage towns like Bowral and Mittagong were modelled after quaint English villages by 19th Century British immigrants. Restaurants, cafes and B&Bs come complete with log fires for chilly winter days and nights. And streets are bordered by English-style gardens (tulips are celebrated each year in an annual tulip festival).
SLEEP AMONGST WILD ANIMALS
You don’t need to be in southern Africa to sleep amongst giraffes and lions: you can have close encounters with the world’s most dangerous animals… in Canberra. In 1998 a local family built a zoo, and now they’ve created a wildlife lodge (jamalawildlifelodge.com.au) amongst it, so guests can sleep in five-star bungalows with their favourite animals. Choose between giraffe treehouses, where you can feed giraffes from your balcony, or lemur rooms, and much more. Guests congregate nightly for African-style dinner parties – a percentage of the profits go back to the zoo’s breeding programs.
SAIL INTO THE BLUE SEA
Sure, there’s over 6000 Greek Islands, but Queensland has nearly 2000 of its own. And there’s nowhere better for a Greek Island-style yachting holiday than Far North Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands. Known as one of the best boating destinations on Earth, there’s 74 islands here, protected by the Great Barrier Reef – and all but eight are completely uninhabited. Charter your own day sailing cruise with your own skipper for up to six people (airliebeachdaysailing.com.au) or skipper your own yacht for multi-day trips (sunsail.com.au, rentayacht.com.au, ccy.com.au).
VICTORIA’S CANADIAN HIGH COUNTRY
Is it the smell of the pines, or the baby blue of the sky… or perhaps it’s the scale of the mountains that surround you on all sides – but being in Bright feels just like spending time in Canada’s British Columbia. In summer, visitors take to Ovens River on kayaks, or by bike to the rail trail cycle way connecting villages in the area. While Autumn is famed for its ‘fall foliage’ and festivals. In winter, there’s snow at the tops of Mt Buffalo National Park above, and one of Australia’s largest ski resorts, Mt Hotham, is only just around the corner.
THE AMAZON OF THE TOP END
It looks just like the Amazon; except the crocodiles here are twice as big as your largest Black Caiman, and 100 times more deadly. Taking an airboat up your own deserted coastal floodplain in the Northern Territory feels as adventurous as any safari within the Amazon. Stay in one of 10 safari-style bungalows overlooking the floodplains, three hours drive east of Darwin at Bamurra Plains (bamurraplains.com). You’ll have 300 square kilometres of the Top End entirely to yourselves.